Your home is a gigantic bug habitat, and there’s nothing you can do about it

Michelle Trautwein hates to break it to you, but your home belongs to the bugs.

They’re in your basement and your attic. They’re scuttling along floorboards and windowsills. They’ve turned your kitchen cabinets into complex ecosystems – complete with scavengers and parasites, predators and prey. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

That is the latest takeaway from Trautwein’s five-year, five-continent effort to understand the creepy crawly roommates with whom we share our homes.

“We’ve been sampling houses all over the world, and it’s true globally,” said the California Academy of Sciences entomologist. “Bugs don’t respect the limitations, the borders we’ve created. They just view our houses as extensions of their habitat.”

These invertebrate interlopers, she continued, are “an inevitability of living on the planet.”

Trautwein and her colleagues have sampled homes in bustling cities and rural villages in the United States, Australia, Japan, Peru and Sweden. Soon, they hope to visit Africa and Antarctica.

In 2012, the team convinced 50 homeowners in Raleigh, North Carolina, to let them look for bugs inside their houses. Decked out in headlamps and knee pads, the scientists spent hours crawling around on the floors of the strangers’ homes, gently swabbing for critters and depositing their finds in tiny plastic vials.

For their latest paper, published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, Trautwein and her colleagues wanted to figure out what features of a building make it friendlier to bugs. So they scored each home on a number of metrics: degree of cleanliness; amount of clutter; presence of pets, pesticides, dust bunnies; number of windows and doors. (To avoid annoying their hosts, the scientists didn’t tell homeowners how they ranked on the cleanliness scale.)

To Trautwein’s surprise, “nothing seemed to make a difference” when it came to bug diversity. Each home had an average of 100 species living in it, regardless of how often the residents cleaned or how many pets they had.

Most arthropods – the group that includes insects, spiders, millipedes and many other spineless creatures capable of giving you the heebie-jeebies – did prefer ground floor, high-traffic rooms with carpeting, with lots of windows and doors. “Which makes sense,” Trautwein said, “since a lot of what we live with is just kind of filtered in from the outdoors.”

When they headed down to cold, damp basements, the researchers discovered a distinct population of darkness-loving cave-dwellers: camel crickets, millipedes, tiny crustaceans.

These insects aren’t just temporary interlopers; they have formed food webs as complex as any you might find in the outdoors. There are prey animals, like scuttle flies, fungus gnats and book lice, which feed on sloughed-off skin and dusty detritus that collects in corners and under furniture. There are opportunistic feeders, like ants. And there are predators – cobweb spiders, ground beetles.

Some creatures, like the German cockroach, are found almost exclusively among humans – they’ve evolved to live within walls, instead of amid trees and grass.

“That gives us the indication that this is really a kind of community that is building indoors,” Trautwein said.

The study dealt with diversity, rather than quantities of bugs, and Trautwein was quick to clarify that there’s a difference between ordinary household bug communities and an infestation.

But she believes some level of bug diversity in a home is probably healthy. Trautwein noted the growing evidence that some modern ailments, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases, may be more likely to occur because we aren’t exposed to as many microbes when we are young. Insects may play a helpful role in hosting and spreading microbial diversity indoors.

Humans have been building homes for about 20,000 years. And though we might think of ourselves and our residences as apart from nature, the reality is that we’re just apes who like to build particularly elaborate nests. From a bug’s perspective, a house is as good an ecological niche as any to exploit.

“This whole project has been a really interesting shift of perspective for me, thinking about the indoors as a novel habitat on Earth … that’s yet to be explored,” Trautwein said.

Already, the initiative has yielded discoveries. The sampling of homes in Peru led to the detection of a new genus of beetles. The scientists have also sent many fly samples to taxonomic experts; several of them may belong to species that haven’t yet been named.

“We think of the places where big discoveries are yet to be made are exotic rain forests or the bottom of the ocean,” Trautwein said. “But there’s still so much we don’t know about the places where we live.”

ad-high_impact_4
News
Officer-involved shooting in Nye County
The Nye County Sheriff's Office gives information about a shooting in Pahrump on Thursday night after a man began firing shots outside of his home. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Law Enforcement Active Shooter Training Exercise
Multiple Las Vegas Valley law enforcement agencies held an active shooter drill at the Department of Public Safety’s Parole and Probation office on December 6, 2018. Officials set up the training exercise to include multiple active shooters, a barricaded suspect and multiple casualties. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Public memorial service for Jerry Herbst
Archiving effort hits milestone at Clark County Museum
The Clark County Museum catalogs the final item from the bulk of Route 91 Harvest festival artifacts. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Final Route 91 Harvest festival remembrance objects catalogued at Clark County Museum
The last of the more than 17,000 items left at the makeshift memorial near the Las Vegas sign after the Oct. 1 shootings have been catalogued at the Clark County Museum in Las Vegas. The final item was a black-and-white bumper sticker bearing "#VEGASSTRONG. An additional 200 items currently on display at the museum will be catalogued when the exhibit comes down. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dozier execution timeline
Scott Dozier was set to be executed July 11, 2018, at the Ely State Prison. Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez delayed the execution.
Grand Jury Indicts Constable for theft
A Clark County grand jury indicted Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. A Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation prompted the criminal probe. The newspaper found Mitchell wrote himself thousands in checks, took out cash at ATMs and traveled on county funds. He faces four felony counts of theft and a county of public misconduct. Mitchell and his attorney could not be reached for comment.
93-year-old WWII veteran arrested during visit to VA hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, 93, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest during his visit to VA hospital on Friday, Nov. 30. (Erik Verduzco Las Vegas Review-Journal @Erik_Verduzco_
Pearl Harbor survivor struggles in her senior years
Winifred Kamen, 77, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as an infant, works a 100 percent commission telemarketing job to make ends meet. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Metropolitan Briefing 18th street gang
Las Vegas Metropolitan briefs the media on the recent arrests made regarding the 18th street gang.
Man shot in Las Vegas traffic stop had knife, police say
Police said the man fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop in downtown Las Vegas had a “homemade knife.” Demontry Floytra Boyd, 43, died Saturday at University Medical Center from multiple gunshot wounds after officer Paul Bruning, 48, shot him during a traffic stop. Bruning pulled Boyd over on suspicion of driving recklessly at 7:41 a.m. near Sunrise Avenue and 18th Street.
Catahoula dogs rescued from home in Moapa Valley
Catahoula dogs were brought to The Animal Foundation after being rescued from home in Moapa Valley.
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses in California wildfire
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about losses she suffered in California's Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Benefit dinner for Kerry Clasby, the Intuitive Forager
Sonia El-Nawal of Rooster Boy Cafe in Las Vegas talks about having a benefit for Kerry Clasby, known as the Intuitive Forager, who suffered losses on her farm in California’s Woolsey Fire in Malibu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at 94
Former President George H.W. Bush has died at the age of 94. He died Friday night in Houston, about eight months after the death of his wife, Barbara.
Las Vegans Celebrate Big Snowfall
Las Vegans celebrate big snowfall at Lee Canyon.
Exploring old mines for denim jeans and other vintage items
Caden Gould of Genoa, Nev. talks about his experiences looking for vintage denim jeans and other items in old mines and other places areas across Nevada and the west.
Officers share photo of dead gunman after Las Vegas shooting
A little over an hour after SWAT officers entered Stephen Paddock's suite at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas police officers far from the scene were already sharing cell phone photos of the dead Oct. 1 gunman.
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece
Frontier jet safely returns to Las Vegas after losing engine piece. (@FlightAlerts_)
Park Service plans ahead for lower lake levels
National Park Service releases new plans to maintain access to the water as Lake Mead continues to shrink.
Women claim abuse at Florence McClure Women's Correctional Facility
Current and ex-inmates, including Merry West, are suing Florence McClure Women’s Correctional Facility, claiming abuse and inadequate medical care. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Butte County Sheriff's Office Body Cam Footage
Bodycam video from Butte County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office Deputy Aaron Parmley, who was in Paradise November 8 helping with evacuations. (Butte County Sheriff's Office)
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 106
NDOT construction blasting along State Route 160, near Mt. Potosi Road, in Clark County as part of a $59 million, 6-mile-long highway widening project that began this summer. (Nevada Department of Transportation)
Car crashes into Papa Murphy's Pizza shop
A driver crashed a car into a western Las Vegas Valley pizza shop on Tuesday morning, police said. (Joe Stanhibel/Special to Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Low-lake-level pumping station nears completion
Barnard Construction and the Southern Nevada Water Authority give one last tour before the new low-lake-level pumping station is activated.
Trailer: Valley of Fires
Sultan’s Playroom from Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada
Make-A-Wish Southern Nevada’s Scott Rosenzweig talks about granting Sultan Bouras Souissi’s wish, and what went into building it. (John Hornberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Marsh brings historic replica of rural church to Amargosa Valley
Jim Marsh talks during the opening of the Chapel at Longstreet, a replica of an 1874 Catholic church built in the mining town of Belmont, Nev., at Marsh's Longstreet Casino in Amargosa Valley, Nev. Chase Stevens/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas Livestock recycling Strip food waste
Las Vegas Livestock collects and recycles food from many Las Vegas Strip companies. (Nicole Raz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like